Saturday 28 May 2011


So here I am sitting in an Internet cafe in Dawson City in the Yukon. The temperaure is an amazing 30C. We passed over into Canada from Alaska for a couple of days and then go back again.

Last night we spent at a campsite in Chicken, Alaska. This "town" has a massive population of 20. We had a long drive from Denali to get there via a place called North Pole. This is where the children's Santa Clause wish lists are sent to. North Pole's new claim to fame is that I bought my first tent there!

We arrived in Chicken just as the one and only cafe was closing but they managed to scramble up some chilli and pie for us. Camping was not as bad as I thought it might be, but I wouldn't fancy doing it in rain!

The guy that owns Chicken owns gold claims on the creek which he rents out for $15 a day for people to pan for gold. He said that they still find substantial amounts of nuggets and last year one man came up from Oregon with his grandson and after one week went home with a cheque for $10,000. Quite a nice holiday I would say.

It's in an idealic location and it would have been a great to stay for a while and enjoy the peace and quiet. But we're weren't scheduled to do that, so this morning we upped sticks and set off for Dawson City. We are only here for the day and at midnight tonight depart. We will hopefully be able to sleep on the bus whilst being driven to our next location which is a camp site at Takhini Hot Springs. Then over into America for a 2 day hostel stay in Haines where we can get some laundry done. Thank goodness for that.

Dawson City is on the Klondyke, one of the well known gold mine fever towns. Davy always said Robert Service, the poet who wrote about those times, was an ancester of his. It's something that I have always intended to research and now that I have been here I'm even more determined to uncover the truth in this claim.

We now have to amuse ourselves for the next 6 hours, prefereably away from the bus, because our bus driver has to get some sleep before setting off for our overnighter. There is a show on at Klondyke Kates tonight so I think it is probably going to be eat dinner and then mosie on down to the casino and set a while until the show starts.

Thursday 5 May 2011

7th May – The Diamond Princess.

We are travelling steerage in inside 4 person cabins on this 5* cruise liner. It is simply a means of transport go get us from Asia to North America, but the luxury is appreciated. I had intended to use this time to upload photographs but the cost of going online is horrendous and the satellite connection is not good. So I will upload photographs when I get more time and a better (free) connection. In the meantime I am emailing text to my good friend Luke back at the office to do the business for me. Thanks Luke. You’re a star.

5th May – Beijing

Here we are again, back to base. We stayed here for the first 2 days in China and are now staying for the last 3 days. This is a really comfortable billet with a lounge/restaurant/meeting & wifi are on the 6th floor with views over the city, including Tian’an men Square. Again, wow, wow.

Our itinerary while here was the Summer Palace, Chinese Tea Ceremony and goodbye to Margaret and Pete Ceremony. Margaret is now bailing out and flying back to Atlanta, Georgia via Stockholm!!! The long way round! Pete is flying back to the UK after we join the ship.

Margaret and Pete’s farewell do was crazy and ended up with Margaret and several others getting very silly after smoking hookah. She tried to get me to try it when I said no insisted that it was only water! Well all I can say is I have never seen water make people so exuberant before. It was so funny.

One of the highlights of the evening was that the boys had arranged an “awards ceremony” which they had spent days organising. The “committee” was Cieron, Ben (who the locals keep photographing because they think he looks like Prince William!), Johnny, Pete and Andy. From what I can make out the awards were concocted over several very drunk evenings and given to Andy to make senses of. He’s good with words. Well he would be wouldn’t he, his dad’s a barrister! And I thought they were up to no good when they kept whispering together. I thought they were planning a trip to a brothel or something!
Everyone received an award. Jono and I were awarded the Torville and Dean Best Skating on Lake Baikal award! The ceremony finally ended with a competition for special awards, I was nominated for “The best social hand grenade” award for my throw away highly inappropriate remarks, but lost to Pete who won with his “Supporting the economies of every country we had travelled through” with his spendy ways. What a great way to end our last days in China. We will miss Gary. He is the best tour guide ever and reciprocated by saying that we are the best group he has ever guided. Mutual admiration is a great thing.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

The Great Wall of China – 3rd May 2011

Another long day in prospect. After eating a real hotel breakfast instead of the usual gruel and dry bread we set off at 8 am for the Great Wall of China. On the way I was again struck by the countryside. We have now travelled several hundred miles by train and coach through out the length and breadth of NE China and every square meter of ground has been neatly cultivated no matter how remote the region.

Gary told me that there has been a massive tree planting initiative throughout China for two reasons, firstly to stabilise the soil in sandy areas and secondly to improve air quality. They are very aware of the pollution caused by industrialisation and this is one of the ways they are tackling the problem. They are also replacing power stations with hydro-electric power which is now accounts for 35% of their needs.

During the Cultural Revolution families were allocated small plots of land which they still farm to this day. These plots are only large enough to feed a family but are not large enough to bring in an income, resulting in it being mainly the old folk who tend the land, while the younger generations work in the city or go into the Army.
Gary says this will change but the government is deliberately taking time so that they whole economic structure isn’t put into an upheaval. Evolution, not revolution.

The Great Wall is what you would expect – great. I walked the Great Wall of China (albeit a small part) – wow, wow, wow. We then went to visit the Ming Tombs – wow, wow, wow. One bucket list sight after another. This part of the trip has been absolutely amazing.

Monday 2 May 2011

Datong – 2nd May 2011

We left Pengyang early this morning for Datong stopping off on the way to see the Hanging Temple and then on to the Yungang Grottoes. The Grottoes are a real hidden gem. Petra was on “my bucket list”, but not anymore.

The story goes that one of the Emperors (can’t remember which one) had ordered that all Buddhist temples should be destroyed. The country had then fallen on hard times and he began to worry that it was because he had been so treacherous. To make amends he ordered monks to carve the caves and statues out of the mountainside. The work continued for several hundred years resulting in the most amazing complex of 48 caves containing 51,000 Buddha statues carved out of the rock face, the tallest being 17 mts high and the smallest 2 cm. It doesn’t sound much but trust me, you had to be there. And all within a beautiful park with superb visitor facilities.

We finally arrived in Datong at nearly 7 pm, absolutely dog tired, convinced that this time the accommodation wouldn’t be up to much, only to find that we were staying in the 4* Hotel Datong Hotel. After suffering the deprivations of Eastern Europe, Russia and Mongolia this place was heaven. We even had BBC World Service on TV! How about that for luxury?
Gary had organised it that anyone with an ounce of energy left could visit to a local restaurant with him. Despite being exhausted I decided to stretch myself and was I glad that I made the effort. It turned out to be first class and one of the most memorable meals of my life.

There were 11 of us and the place was heaving. Apart from excellent food, this restaurant had a USP. The waiters are on roller skates! I thought “they won’t be best pleased with us just turning up like this”, especially as it was a holiday weekend in China, but it just didn’t faze them. They even organised a private room for us. The only way I can only describe the meal is that it was a fondue Chinese style. We cooked out own food in soup on individual hot plates! Again, you had to be there! And the bill only came to just over £4 each.